Throwback Thursday: The rise and fall of the Mitsubishi Lancer
It was the first and the only successful Mitsubishi model in India.
In 1991, India had dawned into a new era thanks to the economic reforms that remained instrumental in inviting multinational corporations from all over the globe. In the decade we saw some highly successful car giants such as Honda, Toyota and Hyundai making futile attempts at stealing a slice of the pie such as Daewoo and Rover Motors of the UK. However, there was one automaker for which I would want to use the oxymoron, successful and failure and that was Mitsubishi. The Japanese carmaker, Mitsubishi which wrote an illustrious reputation through models such as the Eclipse, 3000 GT and the most integral of all, the Lancer Evo.
Commemorating one of those icons posthumously (as the model is now dead globally) that heralded the Mitsubishi brand in India, the Lancer was an enthusiast’s favourite and came loaded as an affordable and feature-laden executive sedan through a joint venture with India’s notable Hindustan Motors (HM) in 1998. The segment had already underscored cars such as the Maruti 1000, Esteem, Daewoo Cielo, Rover Montego, Premier 118 NE and Ford Escort to quote a few. And then, Honda ventured in India with its City, the segment leader for all these years. Despite this, Mitsubishi was able to pull it off well with its unflinching compact kid as it came replete with features and a slew of powertrain options in petrol and diesel where most manufacturers were adamant on spending cash on only petrol cars.
At the time of its launch, the Lancer came equipped with features such as front and rear power windows, power steering, in-dash music system, electrically adjustable wing mirrors and keyless entry. Launched in a single GLX trim, two years later (2000), Mitsubishi launched the mildly updated SLX and SFXi trims. The SLX got visage refurbishments such as a tweaked tail lamp design with reflectors, leather upholstery and 13” alloy wheels whereas the SFXi had a sporty body kit, boot-mounted spoiler, 14” alloys, carbon-fibre dash finish and gear knob and a tactile 3-spoke steering wheel. However, as the gearbox had a polished sheen, it used to slip very often which is why it had to be replaced by an ordinary looking unit. HM later decided to localise 80% of the parts to let it have an edge over its contention and those who were etching to buy the car earlier could own it.
While most thought this would be the final update, it was actually the penultimate one because in 2004, came the Lancer Invex which offered the novelty and convenience of an automatic transmission, a feature considered luxury in the yesteryears. It was a cumbersome unit but at least it iterated the fact that one didn’t have to order a Mercedes-Benz E-Class or a C-Class to have the feature. The automatic variant got with it a slew of cosmetic changes (some obscene) as well such as a subtle chrome-plated grille,clear lens headlamps that tapered at the edges, different bonnet and a boot lid design with a minor (almost inconspicuous) kink.
In its 14 year lifespan, the Lancer got introduced to three engine options, a 1.5-litre petrol, 1.8-litre petrol and a 2.0-litre diesel which continued to serve in the final LXD 2.0 trim that remained until the car was axed in 2012. The most petite engine here still made a respectable 87 PS and 132 Nm of torque which came mated to a 5-speed manual. Meanwhile the diesel powerplant made a measly 68 hp and 122 Nm. This clearly bifurcated the buyers into two. Those who wanted to scythe like a plenary baller had the petrol while those wishing to enjoy the fruits of a fuel-efficient sedan had the diesel. The last recorded ex-showroom price of the Lancer was INR 8.17 lakh.
While Mitsubishi left no stones unturned to ensure people’s allegiance to the brand, there was no eluding the fact that it had far crossed its senescence and the rage with which it started things for the brand in India, was shattering with every passing day. Realising the initial success of the Lancer, the company also launched the full-blown and hot cracker, the EVO-10 in India in 2010. Despite bearing the capabilities of shattering a Lamborghini Gallardo, it didn’t even turn out to be an ephemeral success as it was priced at an obnoxious INR 50 Lakh! On the budget end, they had launched the Cedia, the successor to the Lancer but that was the case of too little, too late as the competition had made drastic surges. Moreover, it competed against the likes of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and the Skoda Laura, all of which had higher brand recognition, better resale value, spare parts availability, more features and oomph on tap which outclassed this well packaged car. Sure, the Sports trim got a body kit, momo steering wheel, spoiler, variegated sporty colours and features such as climate control and touchscreen interface but by then the reputation had taken a plunge so badly that nothing could stop the imminent decline of this fantastic saloon.
Lancer with its equally iconic and off-road connoisseur, Pajero.
Owing to lack of astuteness, Mitsubishi deviated towards launching SUVs such as the Pajero Sport which got decent fame, Montero and Outlander, both of which had a disastrous and tempestuous journey in India because of their price. Getting all their moves wrong, Mitsubishi started pulling off its products year by year after 2012 leading to its current phase with no products in its lineup.
The successor to the Lancer, Cedia.
Ever since Mitsubishi became a part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi group, things were to take a positive turn for the brand in India but the recent Carlos Ghosn scandal has put those plans on hold. The alliance with HM went kaput and it’s been a lore for some time now that the brand wants to recoup its India operations, independently this time around through the backbone of some local dealers in the subcontinent. But there are several questions to this neoteric buildup of events. Firstly, knowing by what has happened with them, will any dealer be ready to support them? What if the products fail to impress the Indian audience? Will Mitsubishi maintain its tenacity this time around to keep steady focus in India? What about the spare parts availability and supply chain configurations? These are some crucial points for the honchos to ponder about. That said, you and I, we all know what this revered brand stands for and the potential they have to succeed in this price-sensitive market despite the stiff competition.
The last generation Lancer.
As a fan, I surely want the brand to make a comeback. However, with the Lancer being discontinued globally and the Pajero (Shogun in Japan) is said to be running on the same track, don’t expect those models to make their way here but the newer ones like the Eclipse Cross, ASX, Xpander and even the L200 pickup to rival the Isuzu D-Max can be prognosted. The Mirage hatchback and the Attrage sedan, though obsolete by modern car standards, if rejigged with a new fascia and connected car-tech with a highly competitive base price, is surely going to be the way forward towards a portentous future. The Xpander looks the part and can take on the Ertiga/XL6 and also provide a solid soar to the sales charts. To sum it up, Mitsubishi’s journey is a tale of missed opportunities but as they say that the closure of one door leads to the opening of another, it is never too late to strike back again with renewed energy and full force. So Mitsubishi, you know what you should be doing. Banzai!
And how can we not miss the final Lancer Evo-10?